Are the vows we make before God and in the company of witnesses really vows? Can marriage really be for a lifetime? Is it possible to stay committed when everything inside you wants to run?
Marriage Under Fire
The sanctity of marriage is under fire now more than ever. Marriage has always been a target for Satan because marriage is God's idea. God's ideas and plans are automatic targets for the Devil.
Marriage between a man and a woman in today's culture seems like a dirty word. If we stand on biblical principles concerning marriage, we are considered intolerant. I can remember as a child singing this familiar playground song: "Mary and Joshua sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, them comes Mary with a baby carriage." We have moved so far beyond this, it is shameful. Fornication, cohabitation, and adultery are glorified in our culture; how could the sanctity of marriage be highly regarded? Now marriage can be between same-sex individuals, and in some places polygamy is accepted. Christians' divorce rates are just as high as non-believers'. Shamefully, ministry marriages are falling apart at embarrassing rates.
What happened to the integrity of vows that we have made before God and in the company of witnesses? We promise to be committed for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer, and until death we do part. Do we lie? Or are we cowards? Having been married for years now, I can tell you that every one of those promises has been tested, shaken, ripped, and turned upside down in my marriage, but we are still happily married.
Fires Are Destined to Refine, Not Incinerate
Fire is an intense element, and the more extreme the heat, the more likely it is to incinerate and leave nothing but ashes. All marriages will face fires. It is what we do in the fire that determines whether it will result in refinement or incineration.
If you intend to obey God's command concerning marriage, your commitment will be tried under intense heat. Matthew 19:8 shares God's heart concerning marriage: "Jesus replied, 'Moses permitted divorce only as a concession to your hard hearts, but it was not what God had originally intended.' " Hard hearts cause divorce—hard meaning not soft, unyielding to pressure, oppressive, harsh, bitter, and resentful. It is amazing that our hearts can become like bricks toward the one we vowed to love until death.
Many types of fire can refine marriage. Financial struggles can draw a wedge so deep the Nile River could flow through with ease. Surviving financial struggle requires forgiveness, patience, longsuffering, and grace, none of which are easy. But when we vow to have God's heart on marriage, we will be surprised at what we can do.
Family interference can create cracks in the foundation of our marriages. When one extra person other than God is in the middle, the cord can unravel like weakened yarn. Keeping family in proper perspective in relation to our spouse can suffocate the flame of disaster. There should be only a threefold cord in marriage: you, your spouse, and God. Ecclesiastes 4:12 states, "A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken."
Child-rearing and childlessness can really test the strength of your commitment to each other. Each of us comes from a different background, and it really impacts our parenting style. An unwillingness to develop a shared parenting style can create an atmosphere for a world war, and children are often caught right in the middle. Vowing to let nothing separate you from your spouse, you can weather the storms of parenting. Childlessness for any reason, either through the inability to conceive or through loss, can place enormous weight or strain on any couple. The death of a child can result in the death of a marriage. But I have seen God redeem and cradle marriages that have suffered the pain of childlessness.
According to Scripture, infidelity allows for a marriage to dissolve. But even in unfaithfulness, God can refine two people to the degree that their worst nightmare can become their greatest testimony. Infidelity is the worst blow to a marriage, but it does not have to be the fatal blow. If we are willing to forgive and extend grace, we can recover from infidelity. There is nothing too hard for God.
Let No Man Put Asunder
We often forget that we are not in control of our lives. Bearing this in mind, we did not join ourselves to our spouse; God did. Since God did the joining, how can we do the separating? Matthew 19:5-6 illustrates God's heart concerning the sanctity of marriage: "And he said, 'This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.' Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together."
"Let no one split apart" is a pretty direct command and yet every day, Christians allow the divorce attorney and the judge to assist them in disobeying God, not because of unfaithfulness, but because of irreconcilable differences. An irreconcilable difference is a cover-up for unforgiveness and disobedience to God's Word. We often separate ourselves from our spouse, not just in living quarters, but in our hearts through bitterness and unforgiveness. God is never pleased with this sin. Yes, unforgiveness is a sin.
It takes courage to remain one flesh and not to allow the fiery darts of Satan to rip us from the covenant we made before God. A covenant is a vow. Marriage is a vow to God and your spouse. Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 shares some very valuable insight on making vows to God: "When you make a promise to God, don't delay in following through, for God takes no pleasure in fools. Keep all the promises you make to him. It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it. Don't let your mouth make you sin. And don't defend yourself by telling the Temple messenger that the promise you made was a mistake. That would make God angry, and he might wipe out everything you have achieved." This is pretty strong and discerning.
When marriages are viewed from the standpoint of vows to God, staying together becomes a little easier. Many things have come to tear my marriage apart; we have walked barefoot through many fires, but God has graced us. He has taught us how to love unconditionally and how to forgive, and we have managed to keep our marriage together through each test. We have committed to let no man put asunder what God has joined, and that includes us. We are committed to marriage for a lifetime.
Domeniek L. Harris is an author, speaker, educator, women's ministry leader, Bible study teacher, and founder of By His Side Ministries, a multicultural, interdenominational, and international ministry for ministry wives. She is a co-laborer in pastoral ministry at Dominion Living Ministries in Memphis, Tennessee.